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How to Choose the Perfect Printer

Tech Talker outlines how to pick out a new printer that’s just right for your needs.

By
Eric Escobar
5-minute read
Episode #43

How to Choose the Perfect Printer

In my past two episodes I’ve reviewed the technology that you’ll need for back to school, as well as how to use that technology to help you succeed. One of the things I mentioned in Part 1 of the Back to School series was how valuable it is to have a great printer. That’s why this week I’m going to outline what you should look for in a new printer and why.

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In the past few years, printers have gone way down in price. Just recently I saw an ad for printers as cheap as $30! The thing to remember about these cheap devices is that you often get what you pay for. In the long run you can save your sanity, your money, and your deadlines if you spend just a little time upfront to do your homework and find the right printer, not just the cheapest one.

Now I’m sure you’ve heard me say this before in my previous episodes, but the best way to buy electronics is to identify exactly what you need them to do for you. It does you no good to buy a $30 printer because it’s cheap, only to realize “Oh wait, it doesn’t have a scanner!” On the flip side, you also don’t want to buy a $700 printer if you’re only going to use it a few times a month to print out 5-page reports. So write out a list of things you would like to have your printer do and then start you search based upon your wish list.

Here are some things you might want to consider when comparing printer models:

Printing Speed

The first is printing speed. Many printers can print relatively fast once warmed up, but many models take forever to start. I recommend checking out demo models at an electronics store to get a good idea of how each one works and how long it takes a printer to get going. You don’t want to find yourself waiting 10 minutes for your printer to go through its warm-up exercises when you only have 5 minutes to print your document before your meeting.

Duplex Printing

Next is duplex printing, which just means being able to print on both sides. I never really thought about this much until college, but, oh man, did it save me! Being able to print on each side of a piece of paper may not seem like a big deal when printing a few pages, but if you’re going to be printing some 500 pages of your thesis (or your novel), it is definitely worth considering due to the weight and paper savings to be gained. Duplex printing can add a noticeable cost to the printer but I’ve found it to be worth every penny if you’re planning on printing lengthy documents.

Photo Printing

Next, ask yourself: Will I be printing photos with this printer? Photo printing functionality will make your paper and ink more expensive and you’ll also need a printer that can print in higher resolution than normal. You’ll want something in the range of 1200 to 4800 dpi or “dots per inch.”

I personally have never been one to print photos at home. Mostly because printing pictures at home requires special paper and a lot of ink. It also doesn’t help that I’m extremely impatient and always end up smudging the paper because I refuse to let it dry. I’ve found it easier, cheaper, and less frustrating to have my pictures printed by Costco, Walgreens or CVS, but that’s just me.

Scanning Options

In the episode Back to School Tech, Part 2, I talked about the benefits of having a feeding scanner. I love these because I can plop down a stack of paper and walk away while the printer does its magic. If you seldom scan documents, you may not want to splurge on this feature. But you should definitely consider it when shopping for a new printer.

The ink your printer uses can end up saving (or costing) you lots of money

If you decide to go for the scanning feature, look at scanning resolution. If you’re only going to be scanning documents, then pretty much any scanner will do. But if you plan on scanning precious family photos, I recommend getting a scanner with at least a resolution of 1200 dpi.

Ink

Ink is probably the least exciting thing when it comes to selecting a printer—mostly because we only notice it when it runs dry. However, the ink your printer uses can end up saving (or costing) you lots of money over the lifespan of your printer. Things to research are how much ink does the device use on average, how many cartridges there are, how much each cartridge holds, and how expensive is each one to replace.

Remember the advertisement for those $30 printers I mentioned earlier? What’s really funny is that they didn’t even come with ink. And the ink for that specific model cost $35. More than the printer!

Extras

So I’ve gone over ink, printing, and scanning, but there are some extra features you may want to think about including in your final decision.

The first thing that comes to mind for extra features is the ability to fax (kids, ask your parents). I recommend including this feature only if you know ahead of time that you’ll frequently use it.

Another feature to look for is networked printing. This is the ability to print jobs from multiple sources and is great for homes with more than one computer. So you can print anything on any computer on the network and it will magically emerge from the one printer. It’s even better if you get a WiFi printer because you can have it anywhere in the house and you can print from any device connected to the network.

Next are the card slots for your printer. These are slots built into your printer that allow you to pop in a thumb drive or memory card and print directly from it. These are great if you want to just print something without turning on your computer.

There are many other specific features you can get for your printer. So if I didn’t cover something that you’re interested in today and you want to know more, head on over to the Tech Talker Facebook page where I’ll be answering all your printer-related questions.

Want to test your tech smarts? Click here to take my new quiz!

Here are you quick and dirty tips for selecting an awesome printer:

  1. Make a list of all your printer requirements.

  2. Consider any extras that you’re interested in, such as wireless printing, faxing, or memory card slots.

  3. Test out printer speeds by going to a local electronics store or reading reviews online.

  4. Duplex printing can save you paper, money, and space.

  5. If you want to scan or print photos, make sure your printer is above 1200 dpi.

Well, that’s it for today. Be sure to check out all my posts at http://techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com/. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post your comments on the Tech Talker Facebook page.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

About the Author

Eric Escobar

Tech Talker demystifies technology and cutting edge devices so that even the most tech illiterate can understand what's going on with their computer or gadget — and what to do when something goes wrong.

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